Our first impressions of Kosovo

Entering Kosovo wasn’t quite as simple as we’d hoped. We made our way through Serbia the day before, taking three buses and 9 hours of our time to reach the town of Novi Pazar. Just as we were going to bed we quickly checked the government website as we always do before entering a new country and discovered the northern region of Kosovo (where our bus to the capitol was due to travel through) was considered unsafe with advice against all but essential travel. We were frantically trying to figure out an alternative route and found a bus going to the town of Rozaje in Montenegro. From there we could catch the once daily bus at 12pm to Pejë in Kosovo. Sadly it didn’t quite go to plan as our bus was delayed thanks to a selfish family who pre-called the bus driver and requested a pick up on the journey but they were late so the driver pulled over and waited 15 minutes for them! We thought we arrived just in time but it turned out the bus left 15 minutes ago and we’d missed the only connection of the day. By this point I was absolutely fed up with public transport. Craig said maybe it’s our sign to explore this area of Montenegro and I said absolutely not. I couldn’t be bothered with figuring out transport to another town in Montenegro, along with accommodation, hiking options…I do all of our travel planning and it’s basically a full time job.

We decided to continue our plans of travelling to Pejë but we needed a taxi to take us a few kilometres up a steep road which would put us in a good position to hitchhike across the border. After some bartering the driver agreed to take us for €4 but once he discovered we were going to Pejë he tried to convince us to go in his taxi the whole way. He offered the journey for €30 which was a hell of a lot of money but as we joined the main road to the border we noticed how few cars were driving along it. To be honest I think we’d of been fine hitching a ride eventually but we were fed up and exhausted so we ended up agreeing on the price. It was a long journey though, 46km up and back down mountain road…and he’d have to go back too. It was a beautiful drive with dense pine trees, mountain views and free roaming cows on the road. As we passed through no-man’s land we noticed a lovely little ramshackle village where each property had a tiny outhouse shed in the garden which really reminded us of Kazakhstan. The border guards in Kosovo spoke English and were very friendly, saying to be careful on our hikes not to accidentally cross over to Montenegro.

As soon as we were dropped off in Pejë we headed to a coffee shop to use the WiFi and book a room for the night as we didn’t want to commit to one incase we didn’t make it across the border. The coffee was delicious!!! We thought Albanian coffee was great but Kosovo wins the award for the best coffee AND price. A large macchiato was just 70 cents. It was more like a flat white but it was made so well (Craig and I are coffee snobs after working in restaurants and cafes around the world) with perfectly frothed milk that was silky but not bubbly. We liked Kosovo already!!

We had a 2km walk to our accommodation in a quiet residential area not far from the old town. The centre had a river cutting through it, a nice pedestrianised area, modern cafes and restaurants and a backdrop of forested hills. It was lovely to finally see the newest country in Europe in person. Kosovo is often still pictured as being a war-torn country so it was really nice to see how much it’s developed since the awful war in the 90s.

Except for the fact that the mattress was a little too soft, the room we checked into was great value for just €17.50 including breakfast and a private balcony. We decided to take a stroll in the afternoon to the Patriarchate of Peć Monastery. It was just a couple kilometres away and free to enter. Before doing so though we needed to check in with the police at the entrance who took note of our passports. Everyone is checked at this point due to previous attacks on the monastery.

It was such a beautiful building, painted a fabulous red colour and set in a lovely garden with lush hills surrounding it. We were already impressed by the outside but the inside was even better. Every single wall was covered in detailed murals including the domed ceilings which would of given the artist some nasty neck-ache. A few nuns were praying out loud, although to us it just sounded like they were rapping. It was very repetitive and sounded almost like they were in a trance.

When we got back to town we were starving as we hadn’t had a proper meal all day. We found a popular little eatery called Kings which sold pasta, risotto or pizza for €2-3, what a bargain! We’ve been cooking most of our own meals in the Balkans to save money but at these prices we were more than happy to eat out. The waiter was a delightful chap and our dinner for two including a beer each cost just €8 with a tip. We befriended a few of the stray dogs in town although some were a little too boisterous, playfully trying to nibble us which I’m very weary of since the time I had to get a rabies jab in Sri Lanka.

Pejë is the gateway to the Rugova Valley and the mountain tops cross into Montenegro and form part of the Peaks of the Balkans trail. The weather was a little iffy for our first hike in the mountains with thunderstorms predicted in the afternoon so we made sure to head up the valley early on. There was a bus at 8am but we decided to try hitchhiking while we waited as we’d heard it’s quite easy in Kosovo, and right they were! We were very quickly picked up by a lovely chap in his 40s who was off to work. He spoke fluent English so it was great to actually have a proper conversation with a local. We chatted about everything Kosovo! We asked him how Kosovo has ended up having the best coffee in the world and he said years ago there was a big unemployment problem so everyone wasted their time away sipping coffee in cafes. There were so many people drinking coffee that they needed to build more cafes and employ more staff. We also talked about the war and he said 80% of Pejë was completely flattened. He remembered going to the shop with his dad who bought a newspaper (which wasn’t allowed at that time) and the Serbian army searched their bags and when they discovered the newspaper they hit his dad repeatedly with it. It’s not something that would of hurt him physically but it’s horrible for a child to witness and it clearly left a big impression on him. He said his dad worked for the red cross and because of that the Serbians put him in jail. His dad was released but it was too dangerous to stay in Kosovo so they ended up as refugees in Montenegro, like many others.

Anyway, he dropped us off along the road where his workplace was and even got out his car to look around and see if any of the cars parked around us had a friend in who could take us the rest of the way. They weren’t but it was fine, we continued walking down the road and another car pulled over to take us the final 5km to the next road junction at Kuqishtë.

From there we had a long uphill walk along a tarmac road which was rarely used. Luckily some workers drove up in a small truck and let us hop in the back which was great! We were dropped off in an area with lots of cute holiday accommodation but also plenty of building sites with new properties popping up all over the hillside. We were soon leaving the little hamlet and walking through a beautiful pine forest. The crisp blue skies we started our day with were quickly being replaced with clouds which was a shame but we hiked as quick as possible to Lake Leqinat. The lake sat right on the border with Montenegro, there were actually two lakes up there so we continued to the second one via a steep mountain route. It was going to offer us much better views than taking the low track but we were in a bit of a hurry now as the clouds were starting to turn black and thunder was rumbling nearby. The trail was faint and then it just totally vanished. We had to stop and search the tree trunks for a red and white stripe but they were few and far between. It began raining and the wind was picking up but with a little backtracking we spotted the next marking heading down towards the lake. That’s when a bolt of lightning flashed towards us and the loud grumble of thunder shook our surroundings. I didn’t like it one bit.

https://flic.kr/p/2nvZ5KR

We lost our route again and Craig suggested crossing over a boulder field to the lake which I didn’t like the sound of. There are still land mines in Kosovo and even though our trail wasn’t visible it was a path at some point so I wanted to follow our route with the map. But it was becoming a bit if a joke, the lightning was terrifying me, I took all my metal jewellery off and squealed with panic whenever the sky flashed or roared.

It was now pouring with rain, the wind was causing us to wrestle with our ponchos and the trail had once again vanished so we decided to backtrack all the way to the first lake and get down the mountain as quick as possible. The trail was now a slippery muddy mess but I was absolutely flying down it, occasionally stopping to look back and check Craig was still behind me. By the time we arrived back at the mountain village the storm had mostly passed us, which was a little annoying actually as I felt like we could of waited it out but there just wasn’t anywhere safe to do so.

On the plus side clouds drifted through the valley below us and we found the most beautiful flower-filled meadow to sit above and have lunch. When we headed back down the road a rather fancy car with beige leather seats pulled over for us. Inside was a guy and his mum who he’d taken on a 21 day holiday up the mountain because she had respiratory issues so the fresh air was very good for her health. He didn’t speak much English but we managed to figure out that he worked in Norway and was back home on holiday. He offered us a mini bottle of wine to have while he sipped one in the front with his mum. She only had one sip and it was very funny because he tried to tell us that she was telling him off every time he took a sip because he shouldn’t be drinking and driving. He laughed and pointed to the raging river we drove beside and told his mum he’d throw her in it which had us all giggling. He said the police don’t drive this canyon road so it was fine. He made sure to drop us in a good location in town and didn’t want any money for the journey, they really are a lovely bunch of people here. We had a delicious coffee and made it back to our hostel just before the next storm rolled in which we were able to watch from our balcony.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    Your post on Kosovo (and the balkans in general) couldnt have come at a better time as im currently reading “Why Angels Fall ~ a journey through orthodox europe from byzantium to kosovo”. That church you visited is mentioned in the book and now i got to see it! Thanks heaps!

    1. Ah that’s great to hear Anna! It was such a beaaaautful church! On the inside and outside.

  2. diana flynn says:

    You two are amazing! I’m so chuffed to know you! I love to read your blogs ( when I have time!) and vicariously travel with you!

    1. Ah you’re too kind Di!!! X

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